Steve Neighbors is head of the Nuggest casino and oversees the Mae B. Adams Trust and the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation. As the leading proponent of the proposed City Center Project and its Knowledge + Discovery Center, he asked for a forum to address some of the many questions and objections that have been voiced over the plan's scope and whether Carson City can afford a sales tax hike to help fund it. Here are excerpts from Neighbors' questions and answers.
Why the City Center Project?
The City Center Project is designed to be a centerpiece in our community of which all can be proud. It will also accomplish a number of objectives. Four of those key objectives are:
1. Help save downtown Carson City. Businesses are all struggling, but the downtown has been hit especially hard due to the freeway bypass. It's our belief that as a downtown goes, so goes the community.
2. Enhance the economic environment in Carson City and develop career opportunities for the citizens and youth of Carson City.
3. Provide opportunities and incentives for the youth and citizens to enhance their skills to fill those career opportunities.
4. Enhance the sense of community and unite Carson for proactive common effort. Carson City has to pull together to accomplish all that it must. By being united and working together, we can accomplish great things.
Give an overview of the three entities involved: the Carson Nugget, the Mae B. Adams Trust, and the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation, and a brief understanding of their interaction.
The Nugget is owned by the temporary Mae B. Adams Trust (MBAT). The Hop & Mae Adams Foundation (HMAF) is the permanent entity that will continue. The HMAF is a charitable foundation set up for the benefit of the youth, charities and community of Carson City. That is its legal charter. When the Nugget is sold, all the assets of MBAT will be transferred to HMAF, including whatever value is gained from the Nugget. So ultimately everything is about the goals and objectives of the HMAF. Internally, we simply refer to these common goals as "Mae's." We think it appropriate as it was her desire to help Carson City help itself. It is her money. She asked for no recognition nor did she ask that her name to be on anything. She purposely allows the Library Foundation to raise funds with a naming opportunity for others who find Mae's vision and effort compelling. So we honor her by using her name in this process.
How is the City Center not just a new library?
It is unfortunate that so much focus has been on the library aspect without understanding how this library is unique. We have been calling it a Knowledge + Discovery Center (KDC for short), which admittedly does not explain the difference. The KDC will serve in part as a library and maintain all the functions of a library. Additionally, a key part of the KDC will be a focus on economic and educational tools. It's a universal toolbox, free to the public, including businesses. It is crucial that all the parts necessary to develop economic vitality and diversification be under the same roof.
Why all the controversy over the City Center Project?
Though the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to go forward with the City Center Project without a tax increase, a ballot initiative was started to stop that process and/or delay it for a future vote a few years down the line. We then heard the ballot initiative was constitutionally flawed and would be thrown out even if the votes were gained. We felt this would simply fuel the controversy. We therefore asked the Library Board of Trustees and the city to put it on the ballot. We want the City Center Project to be about a combined community effort, not about stirring up even more conflict.
We have worked with the city staff, supervisors, as well as a vetting committee, made up of people for and against the project, to determine first the need and then the best scope of the project. This has all be accomplished in the public eye - often with plans considered, then morphed. Unfortunately, this public process has led to some confusion and frustration as the plans changed, but did allow for a fully vetted and cohesive plan.
The community will own all of the collateral of the project, of which the city is being asked to simply pay a part. Instead of the public helping private ownership, it's the reverse: The private sector is helping the public with its public-owned investment.
I have been thankful for some of the opposition that came in a constructive way and was motivated by a true concern. It has made us assess and morph the project as needed. Today the City Center Project is a design from all of us, for and against, and it is an extremely safe, sound and viable project.
I think a lot of the controversy is that people are simply frustrated by government. They are frustrated by bureaucracy. I understand this, especially on a national scale. The politicians themselves have played a role in creating controversy about the City Center Project.
But ultimately, it's the nature of the project itself that creates the controversy. Its very nature as a unique business-focused proposal, engaging all the stakeholders to work together for the common good, is itself at the heart of the controversy. Yes, the project is controversial.
What is your response to the position, "Now is not a good time?"
Unequivocally, this is the time to do this project. I realize that many are under financial stress and the quarter-cent sales tax is not popular. But this project is designed to deal with the freeway bypass before it fully kills the downtown. We are out of time. We have the land and have now liquidated some funds to assist the city due to its importance. If we wait, we will not be able to afford the interest alone. Building costs are low. Our city, the unemployed, and the businesses need this shot in the arm now. Our youth need the jobs to be brought in now. Our senior citizens need the benefits we are installing in the project now. Our professionals and medical support are leaving the city. We need to retain those now. We cannot wait on the federal government to do something for Carson City. It is fiscally irresponsible and inhumane not to do something now. We need to see a solution in play, instead of continued non-action.